Some euroclub smoothness:
Cronholm & Ashley Slater. He of
Wake up late. Sunshine. Eat some chicken. A model wants to meet Monday, not
moon tonight. An Indian banknote collector's weblog:
Some more sessions at the Drupal conference. Last night strolled across Szeged too late
in the afternoon
clutching the converter plug the organisers lent me and met a flow of Drupal people
coming the other way, because the building had just shut. So the socket
adapter and I joined several folk for dinner, including David,
Matthew, Michael, &
Prodosh. Matthew is English
and lives in Switzerland, and Prodosh grew up in Calcutta and lives in Switzerland.
Matthew generously shares out chocolate liqueur coupled with some good advice.
Today have the lunch-snack
thing with Matthew & Christian, who tells us about the early days of Apple and
Microsoft operating systems. Pop in on a user-testing talk, stay for part of an
and then chat to some people from
a support firm.
Finally rather lazily
buy a train ticket from the Drupal reception team
and get myself down to Szeged railway station in the last golden light of the
afternoon [at least golden while you're strolling through leafy streets].
Handsome in a proudly provincial way, the station has mint green walls,
white-gloss-painted wooden wall panelling, and rather Charles Renee Mackintosh
light fittings all clean and restored. I board and find that my
extra-price Intercity ticket has purchased a place on a train with no curtains, no
blinds [the sun is needle-sharp as it goes down over the flat fields for the
next two hours] and no buffet car.
The buffet car usually has thick curtains very helpful against the sun, not to
mention drinks in case you are thirsty. So what did I learn at Drupalcon?
1) Must get more confident with
and other stuff.
2) Must accept that my heart is more open &
vulnerable than I realised. Quite
startling three days. I know far less about my feelings, about my anger & desire,
than I thought I did. Vital to think this through - or feel it through.
So there I am on the train with no curtains, trying to doze in the upright seats
while the evening sun bakes the whole carriage with its glare. Why do all train,
bus and airline seats go up the spine in a hollow curve that makes you slouch, and
then jut in at the back of your head forcing it even further forward, when it
is totally obvious the human body is shaped the other way? The seat should
support just under the shoulders, push padding in behind the neck and go
back out further
up so the head can lean back in line with the spine. A set of vertical, thick,
cushioned ribs could help you wedge your
head in a comfortable position. As it is, you get a kind of flat bowl your head
lolls around in until it is at the most uncomfortable, neck-cricking angle,
whereupon a wing cushion helpfully holds it in that horrible position.
Small children could design something better in roughly half a minute. Thing
is, since the Bauhaus in the 1920s, about a hundred colleges across the world
have been teaching furniture design for almost a century, students at almost
every single one enduring at least one course on redesigning the chair from
first principles. As anyone with more intelligence than a root vegetable can
see, most current seating in places where people need to
sit for hours is very uncomfortable. What does this mean? Clearly it
means that not only do several thousand parsnips hold furniture-design
qualifications, but they control all seating manufacturing
worldwide. Matthew's right, usability is an interest worth pursuing.
Back in the big-windowed informatics building where the
are taking place.
Despite a strange shortage of sockets, and slightly iffy WiFi [for a centre of
computer science at a
proud to be one of the first into the field
fifty years ago] the place is pleasant, bright and clean. Small trays of salty
snacks sit around cool-water machines and brightly-coloured beanbags we are
supposed to flop into while brainstorming the next Facebook in small groups.
There are also rooms called "BoF" rooms, standing for "Birds of a Feather"
which seems to be a pointless made-up word for rooms where people can organise
impromptu meetings. When used by speakers with a variety of American, Dutch,
and Nordic accents, it sounds like "bathrooms" said strangely. Almost every
single person attending is wearing a tee-shirt with writing on it. Have an
interesting chat with Paschal about Africa and African languages over our
Hungarian open-sandwich lunch snack. Also talk to
who has been in PHP for a few years and has good suggestions. A
branding designer &
consultant do a talk on redesigning the Drupal website - when they
ask for any "end-users" I feel rather lonely putting my hand up in the
middle of the large auditorium. No-one else I can see has their hand up.
My hostel room does not include a towel. Never mind. Walk into the centre of
Szeged and try to register for
Having found the street address of the venue the
previous night after searching quite hard on the website [not on the front page,
but hidden at the bottom of the travel page, and only there in answer to a request
in June], I get to the venue nice and early. This means I can spend most of the hour
between 8am and 9am in five separate queues because, despite having paid in full in
June [and they freely acknowledge I have paid in full, this is not in doubt] they
are missing my invoice address, so the whole process of registration, badge-printing
etc has to be held up and me with it. The Hungarian girls behind the counter behave,
as Magyars so often do, like bits of computer code. They literally cannot imagine
doing task B if task A has not been completed, so I must wait. They mean well, and
are driven almost frantic when I point out they could have
organised the task differently.
The first talk is fairly self-congratulatory, milking the audience for feel-good
applause roughly every 90 seconds. The more people get thanked for their vital help
in making the conference possible, the more I wonder why the programme is full of
strange English [I offered free editing online almost two months ago, but no-one
replied to my offer] and why not one of those eager helpers thought of putting the
street address on the front page of the website.
Dries, the Flemish founder of
Drupal, takes over, and gives a quite thoughtful talk about, among other things,
why so few end-users seem to be on the Drupal site. At 11am a genuinely helpful
talk from a North American woman called
is all chatty humility, and has
some handy tips about starting to code in Drupal. A later talk is interesting
because it is about designing websites for small rural businesses, and because
the woman giving the talk,
has some business sense and keeps the internet in
perspective, to the concern & puzzlement of some in the audience.
After some rest in the evening, I walk back
across the river from the leafy side of the river Tisza where I am staying. At
least one rock concert is just below one side of the white-painted girder bridge
on the leafy bank. As I pass it the music is complemented by the warm, summer
aroma of sun-dried vomit. Big ball-shaped baskets of some small pink flowers
hang from lamp-posts. Find the Drupalists enjoying The Free Drink, which is a
slim glass of fizzy yellow that goes gradually red towards the bottom -
some kind of strawberry-liqueur-plus-champagne, apparently. Others say
they hated it, so I get a second one for free: though the red taste at the bottom
is a bit like jam, I quite enjoy them both.
Afternoon train down to
The town is warm, pretty, & friendly.
Pop out to airport to meet
from Denmark. They are here for this week's
event in Szeged. Bump into Jim & Diane mid-afternoon.
By late night, a mix of caffeine, alcohol,
vitamin A and one or two other
things does something interesting to my mood. Somehow the quality of my
attention and awakeness becomes smoother, even creamier, odd as that might
sound. I fall asleep with a sensation that I am turning into some kind of
pure metal, having my volume slowly and gorgeously filled by billowing clouds of
powdered silver. I could pay serious coinage for such a feeling, but this costs
almost nothing. Vitamin A is the business, citizens.
Stay up late editing and proofreading. Cannot remember who it was who came to my
room at college and insisted we both sit down and listen to disc one of
on the Beach' right through. Here is much of the ten-minute opera
Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread'
Hot sticky weather.
At suggestion of director friend, attend audition in mid-afternoon. Odd script,
with a part for a tense Englishman who keeps switching into French. Later buy
a Spanish dictionary and some muscle-relaxant
which stings a bit.
Fly to Budapest. Sleep much of afternoon. Go weight-training in the evening.
Stay up most of the night. Seems that all secret-police
TV shows [as
Watson called them] in the 60s & 70s had theme
composed of conga-style drums, deep brass & a high thin melody. See
how slowly the global-warming-themed
Man Flint' gets started, though with wonderfully dated moments adoring the
pneumatic tube canister and the majestic punched-card computer.
Before getting out of bed, finish sister Heather's hosts' copy of
by Malcolm Gladwell. Must find out if it was his sister at the
maths lectures. Despite being born in Britain, Gladwell has learned writing
in the US, so there is the usual readability problem you get with books by
American journalists. We can never just get down to what a particular
researcher has found, because first we have to have a lead-in sentence like
[it's easy to make one up]
"On a sunny, late-spring afternoon in a New Jersey
suburb two men in chinos and open-necked shirts are sharing a sea-food lunch."
This kind of writing you get in American
books & magazines can be deeply irritating. It also means that
the actual content of the book turns out to be about a quarter of what it promises.
In brief, Gladwell meets people who say that rapid, apparently instinctual,
judgements [such as "my gut tells me this artwork is fake"] are often right.
This is most true when those judgements summarise lots of previous learning. He meets
and learns about the facial muscles and how we read people's faces at a glance.
For at least a page, he confusingly describes expressions with reference to
these muscles without a diagram or list of which muscles are where.
Gladwell also writes about how snap judgements can deceive
us. For example, we think that Pepsi tastes better than Coca Cola because
a single sip test is biased towards the sweeter choice. However, the real experience
of drinking some vile soda drink to the bottom of a bottle, at home, combined
with all the messages of the packaging & advertising is the composite
sensation that sells a brand. Running out of steam slightly at the end, he
discusses how some situations close down our ability to collate lots of data
into quick judgements. So, policemen when frightened become almost autistic,
unable to see details that should show they are not in danger and do not need to
kill, for example,
electrician. Some interesting bits, but overall the usual disappointing
mishmash of psychology research and what the researchers' beards
and pullovers looked like when he met them.
Before leaving the house, Heather & I have a Skype webcam conversation with Nikki,
one of my perky nieces. Nikki lives in Sydney and does something for Coca Cola.
Fred & Heather kindly drive me down the winding hillside road to the station to
catch my very air-conditioned mid-afternoon train
into Barcelona. There I successfully meet Follo, but fail to find the Nigel of
Light, due to difficulties with mobile phones. Late lunch with Follo & Valentina
in their partly-restored house in the old town, with the two children,
and the bouncy 2-year-old tot Ada [named after the
and computing pioneer who collaborated with Babbage], and their friend
Joanna. Follo explains how much toil has already gone into the house in the
country he has also been restoring and as I say goodbye Valentina is in the
cellar with two Brazilian workmen surrounded by dusty bricks and tools. Architect Joanna
helpfully walks me to the nearby bus station to catch the last coach of the
day out to the airport. We pass four good-looking people speaking a strange
language, which I later find out at Joanna's insistence is
very beautiful & archaic it sounds too. On the coach, I get talking to
striking fine-art graduate
clearly descended from the angelic Angles Pope Gregory and
other Augustine met. Sign in at the airport hotel, which feels and smells just the
way a 1960s Mediterranean hotel should, with cheap wood chairs, cool marble floors
and a sleepy basement canteen open until 10pm. No digital
door-card nonsense, but a proper key dangles from a chunky block of
see-through plastic with slightly skewed room number sealed inside. Sleep until 6am.
More Catalan suburb relaxation. The general mood of local people we meet at the shop
or walking through the vineyards is absent-mindedly affable.
Heather decides to move the mouldering severed
limb from the kitchen - some kind of Iberian pigmeat delicacy with its slightly
sinister coating of velvety green. The house Heather & Fred are looking
after is odd. It is large, rambling and rather dark inside. There is a garage
with two cigarette vending machines, a shelf full of cocktail shakers, four cement
mixers, two shelves of bound volumes of back copies of
'Hola' from the 1950s and 60s, a
drawer full of cigarette lighters, two drawers full of old telephones: the
usual. The grounds
are overgrown and include an almost-completed swimming pool, dry naked
concrete calling out for water to fill it. Indoors, a number of furry animal
heads peer at us from the walls of the sitting room, but they look not
quite right, due to the lowness of the ceilings. Rather than trophies lining
the master's high-beamed hall, they are more at the height of domestic livestock
who've burst their heads through from the neighbouring cattleshed.
Insofar as animals can have expressions, they look a bit surprised.
We wander around
Llorenc d'Hortons, which is a small quiet town somewhere on
the outskirts of Barcelona. Mostly vineyards around. Heather & Fred introduce me
to the owners' cartoon-style mongrel dog, so dim it ties itself in knots with its
chain, and - apparently - must on no account be let off its leash.
This time goes to plan. Air-conditioned
from Alicante to Barcelona. Travel
first-class, and though they have not had the idea of power sockets for laptops
in their preferente carriage, they do try. Very decent free breakfast [including
a darling little purple clothes
peg holding together all the tiny sachets of condiments], free headphones to hear
the naff films on the little television monitors, and a
very brisk man steadily plying me with tea, water, and fruit juice
at least for the first sixty miles of the trip. Lots of quiet, sleepily
courteous Spanish people scattered about train. Spain seems to combine low-key
with a certain dose of flair. Sister Heather & Fred meet me at Barcelona station,
we take a suburban train out to the large, dark house they are looking after for
friends, and we drink quite a lot, chatting late.
Warm day. I get the bus into Alicante railway station and find that all the
trains today to Barthelona are full.
seat sold, so they say [note the incorrect links on that page]. As so often with reforming
countries, all the surface elements are impressive. New station, new graphics,
new trains, all very shiny. Just some totally basic, common-sense element missing.
I warn sister Heather, then buy a first-class ticket for tomorrow. With help from an
interpreter I explain to the station staff in cheery terms how to set train ticket prices
so as to cover the
marginal cost of always adding an extra carriage if all seats sell out. The clerk
girls seem friendly and genuinely interested by this how-to-join-the-19th-century tip.
Back at the university accommodation complex, book in for a second night. Am
given a room almost the exact left-right mirror image of the one I slept in
last night. Mind you, the kitchen sink hot and cold mixer-tap directions
are set the wrong way round again [blue=right=hot, red=left=cold] and the
facing bathroom sink mixer-tap directions are right again [blue=right=cold,
red=left=hot], despite having swapped sides of the room - otherwise a
perfect mirror image. Sleep much of afternoon. Long-weekend
fiesta and siesta go together. Must rhyme for a reason.
Three more from Lady Waks:
Fly from Manchester to Alicante. Should have taken water onto the plane, because
system is that the bratty children get served first
and I am not allowed to buy a fruit juice until an hour has
gone by. A couple of very sweet Spanish girls at Alicante airport, including one
astonishing border guard with long blonde tresses and a gorgeous smile. Manage to
find taxi driver to take me to the university campus. When I ask him my single
prepared question in Spanish [May we speak in English?] he asks suspiciously if
I am Italian. We settle on French and I get to my clean white sleeping cubicle soon
enough, in a complex of buildings all rendered outside with that vivid mid-blue
Greeks like so much. Eating out at the local shopping centre, it becomes clearer
than ever how much modern architecture depends on sunshine. A really quite banal
mall, which could have been in Skelmersdale or Warrington, but here the overbright
colours and random bits of sculpture are less offensive. In warm evening light
with relaxed, brown-skinned people wandering around, the decor seems to jar less
than in the north. Not actually elegant, but perhaps stylishly ugly. The food court
is open-air, and as dusk takes hold, the sky hollows out like a dome of burnished
metal, not quite matt, without a single cloud or vapour trail. Soft grey at one
side of the sky, and a creamy pale blue where the sun has just gone down - this
could be a desert evening.
Still dark, still rainy. Depressing place. More clearing up. Rip weeds off the
wet exterior wall. Try, but fail, to book room in
card not acceptable.
The darlings at British Telecom confirm they cut me off because I owe them
sixty quid's worth of line rental since January. Finish Nigel's copy of
by Alexander Lowen.
The author, an American Reichian, says it is the problem of our era,
replacing Victorian guilt and repressed sexuality. He writes interestingly
about children shocked by parental discord, and manipulated by one parent
into taking their side against the other. Being a follower of Reich, he
naturally concentrates on muscular "body armour". This leads to
rather overconfident [not to mention odd] interpretations like the following:
"To my surprise, Mark didn't react at all when I applied
pressure with my fingers to the tight muscles in his groin. " and
"In fact, he told me, he felt like laughing at me. He suppressed
the laugh because he sensed it had a diabolical ring."
The idea that it might be quite natural to tense or laugh oddly when a
strange man begins to poke around in your crotch
never seems to occur to Lowen, as it so rarely does to therapists once they
take up residence inside one of these systems. Lowen
extrapolates a bit much from his own case, and dissolves at the end into a curious
homily about how times have changed and decency and dignity have disappeared since
his adolescence in the early 1920s. The scale of narcissists is the most intriguing
bit: apparently serial-seducing Don Juan types are the healthiest, least
narcissistic types among narcissists, men
who kill lots of people or easily might [psychopaths] are the second most
narcissistic, and people with paranoid fantasies of grandeur are the most narcissistic
of all. Some bits apply to me, but not as helpful as I imagined. Lowen's idea of
feeling with the body as opposed to the body image is quite subtle but only seems to
be explained through the body-armour idea, not much help to narcissists with
relaxed muscles and postures. Interesting, but not great.
Move more books. Lunch with thoughtful
Minnie from Harrogate.
Start moving boxes of books down the stairs into the sitting room. Yorkshire is
dark, damp, rainy, and considerably chillier than either Hungary or France. Stay
up late clearing books out of my room and mother's room. The
scrap seems to have temporarily halted.
Wake up at Nigel's in Manchester, and set off by train to Yorkshire. The house is
dark, slightly damp, and has acquired a stripe of bright green vegetation down
one outside wall where a water pipe seems to be leaking. The hot-water boiler is
not working, and the phone sounds as if it has been cut off. The sitting room
smells of the long-dead Alsation dog
Another day, dark & rainy outdoors, but warm & cosy indoors,
with Nigel, young Cody, and Nigel's mother. I pop out to get
some whisky [from a nearby shop with an electronically-operated double door to detain
armed customers in a sort of airlock] and some
ginger ale from another
shop. We all drink ginger and whisky, and Nigel's mother tells her account of seeing
[and touching] a ghost one afternoon in her bedroom some years ago. Jo-Georgina
arrives to pick up her daughter Cody, and we natter past midnight.
Manchester: the Nigel of Darkness & I rise late. Over breakfast, Cody shows me a couple of the
video games she plays on her hand-held pink device. One is about designing fashion
outfits, and another is about surfing with penguins. Nigel and I visit the
facility a couple of miles down Cheetham Hill Road, today
being run by a pretty girl who is not Slovak. Monika is Polish. The deal with
the storage place is not quite what I had understood, so we withdraw to think it over.
Walking back, Nigel tells me
about his friend Mark in London, with his band Whoboys, who is now on his 3rd
Japanese wife. He also mentions a chat with a Swedish ex-rocket-scientist in Norway
who introduced him to the handy term "passive income" [like rental income - where
money comes in by itself]. As we walk along Cheetham Hill Road I find
strewn across the pavement a mobile phone in three pieces - battery fallen out and
back off. I put it back together, switch it on, and check through the addresses to find who
I could text. The owner has friends with names like 'Weed', 'Zig', 'Turd', 'Black Steve',
'Tasha', 'Proactive', 'Taz', and 'Ian's Mum'. The owner rings me up, a little distraught
at first, but I calm him down. We arrange
to meet at the Cleveland Hotel in Crumpsall [once the "3rd hardest pub in Manchester"
but now, Nigel says, really quite civilised]. The phone owner, Mike, has a small
bicycle and is very grateful to get his phone back. He presses a tenner on me, and
calls us gents. Back indoors, Nigel, Cody & I
watch an episode of
Possible', a cartoon about a teenage redhead
who does things like fly spaceships. She says things like "No big" and
"What's the sitch?" After dinner we watch another cartoon,
Home for Imaginary Friends' about another girl with red hair.
This heroine copes with a series of social conundrums about
growing up, to a retro backdrop of highly-coloured stylised furniture.
By evening, Nigel and I take some
[selegiline], a supposed smart drug.
Take 15mg with water. Wait for effects, then have dinner downstairs with Cody.
She shows me her shop slogan "All 1 pound, no little no less". Back upstairs to wait
for alleged cognitive stimulant to kick in.
Begin to notice small movements out of the corner of my eye. A mild sense of
heightened alertness and composure.
Midnight: Time seems to pass fairly quickly,
with a feeling of relaxed concentration. Nigel & I agree there's a sense of
being able to take in more types of information at once without confusion
1.30am: After walking Juno the dog in the
night-time drizzle with
Nigel & Cody, Nigel & I are back staying up after the others have gone to bed.
We are watching a film about two very striking lesbians
who decide to steal lots of money from one of their husbands, a nasty gangster. Am not
feeling especially clever, but generally calm, alert, and competent. A good state
of mind to get some work done. What Mariann would call a very "English" sort of drug.
Kind Michael drives me to Bratislava airport. The building seems to be deserted except
for bored Slovak girls in their early 20s, who appear to staff the whole building
unassisted by any men, rather like an episode of
Aeroplane arrives late, but we reach Manchester, disgorging its healthy portion of
leggy Slovak women, many of whom are contentedly looking after small blonde
children. In Manchester airport I recharge my laptop at the Burger King, in the
process buying a couple of orange juices from a very friendly, cute lass who is
...Slovak. By evening, I reach Nigel's where he is with Juno the dog, Nigel's
mother, and her great niece, Cody, a lively girl of ten. Over dinner, Nigel
tells me about a friend, Harriet, who has now become an "aggressive breast
feeder". After dark, Nigel, Cody, and I go out to walk Juno. We pass through
the badly-lit park telling Cody about ghosts. She explains they can only
take your soul if you are in state of doubt and fear. Nigel shows us where
the rustle of hidden water under a metal plate betrays a secret river diverted
into a pipeline under the night-time park. Cody chatters cheerfully on, using
a kind of archaic speech almost from the England of Spencer &
Sidney: "Aye, Nigel, gone right done me head in bloody mad, that". Cody does
lots of hobbies: she says "I go choir, I go brownie,
I go samba." She likes my watch, and how the display looks like a set of
bathroom scales, only she says it looks "like a weighing stone".
Take train to Bratislava through hot sunshine. Meet relaxed
Michael, his wife Agi,
and his two cheerful little boys. Michael & I go out for a tranquil Slovak dinner,
beers, beherovka, jaegermeister, and more beers, and tells me about his
three saleable-sounding book proposals. While it is still daylight, as
we walk through Bratislava, we
pass a tramp sleeping outside a building with a big, square rip in his trousers
so we can see his bottom and his scrotum. The rest of the town is remarkably
quiet and affluent-looking, however. As slim, long-legged girls keep
passing our table at one cafe after dark, I start to be convinced by the Slovak
Siren Theory. Briefly, a small, angry man stands in the middle of the street
and screams manic abuse at everyone and himself, but despite the two-minute
interruption, the steady promenade of well-turned-out tall young women
just continues. We end up in
conversation at a night club with elegant Jana, a forceful administration
student who demands we chat her up by staring fixedly at me until I offer her some of our snacks.
Rob, followed by a remarkable
curry. Possibly the
meal ever for either of us. He relates recently seeing in the sunshine
outside the Mammut shopping centre a large, mournful-looking man wearing a
white tee-shirt with the English slogan in black letters: "Nobody
Knows That I'm Gay". Rob's wife Eti & his little girl Mali
are on good form.
A recent article he read was about a small number of children of WWII German
Nazis who converted to Judaism, and now often take the Palestinian side of
explains to me Philip Davis's theory that Shakespeare's function shifts [like
verbing nouns] use different parts of the brain from normal language. Rob reminds
me how his loathed English teacher from Northern Ireland, Paddy Kavanagh, would
stop the class during
of Malfi' readings to say "Notice, boys,
how this is a reference to the foreskin being peeled back like a banana" or how,
in Donne's verse
and catch a falling star, get with child a mandrake root"
the mandrake root was clearly a thrusting penis, not a
fucking tuber, etc etc. Rob also says I should see a new film called
Bruges', and he mentions some bits of news suggesting two
political movements with something like a self-extinction
wish. Britain's Labour government's creepy new biometric passports have been
shown to be hackable [of course], so hugely worsening fraud and identity theft.
But to improve on this, Labour is going ahead with a plan to launch unmanned drone-style
to fly over Britain at 50,000 feet doing mass covert surveillance of
ordinary people - raising the odds Labour will never win an election ever again. Meanwhile, Barack
Obama has been not only unwise enough to tell the American public he knows who
is, but even to reveal that he's read some of his work. Very pleasantly merry on
cocktails and rum-enhanced mango lassi. Rob brilliantly simplifies one of my plans.
Relaxing drinks with Jose, who urges me to read
Find a Manchester storage place over the phone at last. Quiet evening of bevvies with
Mystery Friend 2 follows. Istvan joins us with
Robin, who has brought back
his white-line artwork from the countryside for me, and is cheerful, fresh
from winning at cricket yesterday.
Having finally installed Drupal myself on my laptop, though with crucial help
& encouragement over Skype chat from Mystery Friend 1, now I have to work out
how to "enable a module". Today is the fourth Red Bull day-into-night in a row, and I
finish off some editing work for a new client. Citizens, at all
costs avoid Red Bull's own Cola flavour. How I imagine fly spray
tastes. Six tracks from Lady Waks:
Do we respect the phat beatz, or is it all a bit dreary and earnest?
More editing work. Also finish
Franc's copy of
Sword of No-Sword'
by John Stevens, a biography, in places bordering on hagiography, of a mid-19th-century
Japanese kendo teacher, poet and calligrapher: Master Warrior Tesshu. Both interesting and
inspiring. This kind of Japanese character, a dedicated sword fighter who struggles through
years of relentless, unceasing practice until reaching Zen enlightenment,
plays a low-key but crucial role behind the scenes of national politics, sets up his
own dojo and school, continues the grinding schedule, does huge amounts of beautiful
calligraphy - this type seems to have disappeared from some western countries.
Apart perhaps from Rupert Brookes' first
of months' exultation at the outbreak of World War One, has any Briton
positively lived the gentleman-soldier/diplomat-poet life since
occultism, it is hard not to think of Zen, Europe and America's favourite Oriental
mysticism for a century, as protestant Buddhism. Bare wooden floors, long hours of frustrating, repetitive
practice and meditation, virtuously plain practice halls, homilies on the simple beauties of nature, austere
pleasures like pebble gardens and unsweetened green tea, Japan's brand of Buddhism is about as northern
European as it gets. The Word might not quite triumph, but it fuses with the image, itself stripped down
to spare cartoons of three or four brushstrokes. Stern or violent teachers, stoically refusing to water
down or explain their teaching. A sense that all things pass. Disdain for display, outward
show, or decoration. North-of-England, even. It's anti-intellectual. It doesn't brood on mystery.
It reveres common
sense, albeit a kind of heightened common sense. Illusion is bad, clarity & realism are always
good. Uneducated rustics often see to the heart of things. Enlightened teachers can get drunk
every day, as long as they never take themselves too seriously.
Insight often comes with humour. Long-windedness is laughable. Less is more. The cod Yorkshire
expression [surely legendary?] "Put wood in hole" for "Close the door" suddenly sounds Zen
while reading this. The author is not so much less interesting a figure than Tesshu himself
[Stevens would of course be humbly outraged at being compared to the great kendo fighter]. An American,
he stares out of the back cover with the impassive yet concentrated face of the martial arts adept,
his white karatejamas just visible in the photo: a non-Japanese who lives and teaches aikido in Japan
and has apparently immersed himself in its culture completely. In this very straight-down-the-middle book,
he proceeds through Tesshu's life and achievements in orderly sections, including lots of the
sword-fencing teacher's calligraphy and humorous sketches. Tesshu appears to have been crucial in
reconciling Japan to modernisation, at the same time as working ceaselessly to continue its traditions
in the spirit he thought they deserved. He died in 1888, before seeing whether the fusion of
state-driven industrialisation and a Zen-steeped class of ex-samurai purists was quite as healthy a
combination as it might have looked at the time. Dedicated, modest, generous, a man with a
single-minded mission. "One-pointed" is of course a compliment in Buddhism.
Entire day proofreading user manuals for the waiting-queue ticket-machine people.
The glamour continues. Hot and sticky the whole day. No matter how often I wash,
my skin feels like the back of a self-adhesive pricetag all day.
Two days ago saw a girl with a male handler in my local
all-night supermarket. He was dressed normally, though with a small backpack
marked by an odd logo of a yellow triangle with a black stallion rampant. She
was dressed in a red minidress, with straw and cork platform shoes tasselled with
the same prancing-horse logo, and two large ear-rings made of pendants showing
the logo again. Even with her belt, made of Formula-One car-race starter-flag
black and white squares, failed to help me connect it with Hungary's Formula
One race around now at Hungaroring. Franc yesterday confirmed that the logo is
so she was clearly a hostess. I asked them both if they were selling
something since they were covered in badges, and they looked at me as if I was
Though I resent bad customer service, as I proofread documents
all today about different ways to measure and track how hard clerks are working
in banks, I start to feel a twinge of pity for them. I take a break and go to
the day-time shop. As I reach across the girl to get myself a carrier bag she
leans close and quickly mutters at me to let her do that, because "the cameras
don't like customers reaching into the till area." She speaks so fast in a low
tone, and I'm so stunned she anthropomorphises cameras, I am still not
sure if she said 'cameras' or put in an extra syllable to indicate "camera folk"
or "camera ones". I look up, and above both cashiers are two cameras pointed
straight down into the two tills like ...well, a bit like weapons. Entirely
sensible of course to film the tills at all times, but still unsettling
somehow. Searching for the Tonio K song 'I Handle Snakes, Y'All',
I find instead God-fearing bluesmen
At the smoover and probably more sinful end of things, here is some
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith @ yahoo.com
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